WHY did Russia blow up their own satellite?

Today we learned Russia has conducted an ASAT missile test and destroyed one of its own old satellites. Normally this wouldn’t be much of an issue. Countries test their weapons regularly. Plus it was their own satellite. Under different circumstances this would have be a normal news and we wouldn’t even read the details. Unfortunately, this is news we cannot ignore. The satellite in question was in an orbit of about 400 km. That orbit is very very popular. One, ISS. I mean who doesn’t know at this point. And 2, there are many nanosatellites in that orbit. It is close to earth and you can collect a lot of useful data from that orbit. The debris created by this test will endanger the ISS and god knows how many satellites that are currently in LEO.
Now let’s play the devil’s advocate for a moment. What would be a good reason to destroy that particular satellite? surely , Russia has many other satellites. Perhaps some in the 200 km range. Could it be

  1. They were trying to hide something? Maybe they didn’t want anyone to find out that the satellite was painted in pink paint? ~ Unlikely, the satellite in question was launched in the 1980’s. Nobody cares about such an old satellite. 
  2. They needed the space? Maybe they have a replacement satellite ready? Nope. That can’t be a good reason. The only way to vacate an orbit is to fire the booster and set course for the sea
  3. Maybe it was their test requirement. Maybe the goal of this ASAT was to destroy something at 400 km. could be. But why would they risk their own cosmonauts? Currently there are 2 cosmonauts in ISS right now. This test put their lives in danger too. Even if this was a requirement, where was the courtesy announcement? The the navy conducts live firing exercises, they make sure there are no fishermen at the sea. This is a common practice.

Now I don’t have the president’s Putin’s phone number nor  am I a specialist on global politics. So this is my personal opinion, take it with a grain of salt. If you search for news on Russia right now, you’ll see that there are some tensions related with territory and EU politics. My bet is that this was a show of power. Nothing else. My guess is they didn’t want to launch an ICBM into the sea and gather too much news attention. So they picked space and aimed their missile at their own satellites. This way they can flex their muscle just enough to make everyone notice but not enough to create a global news cycle.
This is the misfortune of the field I chose to work 

This month in Space: March 2020

📹 🔊 Indian astronaut starts training

Source 1:

Indian Astronaut Candidates Start Training In Russia

Source 2:

Virgin Galactic gearing up to start selling suborbital spaceflight tickets again

For some reason, India, Pakistan & Bangladesh announced that they will send Astronauts into space. Bangladesh just made the announcement this year. Pakistan plans to team up with China in this regard. As far as I know, only India out of these three countries have taken actionable steps. 

After a thorough selection process, the four Indian Air Force fighter pilots became the ISRO’s candidates for the planned Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission.

The 12-month training programme began on Monday, 10 February 2020. The programme includes comprehensive and biomedical training of the Indian candidates, which will be combined with regular physical tests and exercises.

I hope they continue this process. If the goal is to send people into space for publicity, I would say that it is a terrible way to spend your money. If you want to send your pilots into space, just use Virgin Galactic. They will go to space for a couple of hours for cheap. 

I’m not against human expeditions. All I’m trying to say is, make it count. Training astronauts is an expensive process. It is also very stressful for the astronauts. I was fortunate enough to shake hands with 2 Japanese astronauts. They both trained in the USA. When asked about the most challenging part of his training, Dr. Takao Doi said, it was uncertain. He trained for months not knowing if he will ever fly on a mission. Just recently, two Russian Cosmonauts were switched with the backup team. One of the Cosmonauts had medical conditions for which he could not fly. The agency decided to switch the pair with the backup personnel. That’s how challenging and risky human space flight is. As an ordinary citizen, I would like to know the long term goal of my government. What Bangladesh hopes to achieve by sending a man to space. 

Citing medical reasons, Russia’s space agency announced Wednesday that it is replacing two cosmonauts who were scheduled to fly on the next Soyuz mission to the International Space Station in April with backup crew members.

Russian cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin were training for launch April 9 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy on the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said Wednesday Tikhonov and Babkin — both rookie cosmonauts — will be replaced by cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner on the Soyuz MS-16 mission. Cassidy’s assignment to the mission remains unchanged.

📹 Live long and prosper

In case you missed it: Have you seen the logo for the US Space force? Does it remind you of someone? Captain Picard maybe?

Screenshot from: https://twitter.com/mirikramer/status/1220822476621598720?s=20 

📹 🔊 Space Force gets $15.4 billion in 2021 budget request

That’s about 60% of what the White House allocates to NASA.

That money will be put to a variety of uses. For example, $1.6 billion is earmarked for three national-security launches, $1.8 billion will go toward Global Positioning System projects and $2.5 billion will support “space-based overhead persistent infrared systems,” Department of Defense (DOD) officials wrote in a press release today. 

The total DOD allocation in the request is $705.4 billion.



That is a lot of money. Also true, the US is a major world power. This is probably a fraction in contrast to their national budget. I only bring this up to point out how important it has become to have your presence in space as a part of national security. Just as a reminder, US is not the only country with a space force. France, Russia, China have branches of armed forces dealing with space aside from their space agency. 

🔊 Another case of data privacy violation

“I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime,” said Zachary McCoy. Google’s legal investigations support team emailed him to let him know that local police had demanded information related to his Google account. McCoy’s lawyer “pointed to an Arizona case in which a man was mistakenly arrested and jailed for murder largely based on Google data received from a geofence warrant. McCoy said he may have ended up in a similar spot if his parents hadn’t given him several thousand dollars to hire Kenyon.”

The article also notes a Google filing last year reporting that the requests from state and federal law enforcement authorities increased by more than 1,500 percent from 2017 to 2018, and then again by 500 percent from 2018 to 2019.



Ok, this is not exactly space related news, but it ties up into a larger scope of what I care about and what I want you to pay attention to. You are encouraged to read the full story from the link above. And consider this your monthly reminder to check your digital privacy.

📹 🔊 Another small satellite launcher



The California-based spaceflight startup Astra scrubbed a planned orbital launch attempt from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island on Monday (March 2).

The mission’s guidance, navigation and control officer noticed some potentially problematic data less than a minute before liftoff Monday,

Three of them — Astra, Virgin Orbit and Vector Launch — advanced to become “full participants.” But Virgin Orbit and Vector Launch eventually dropped out, leaving Astra as the sole competitor.

Before this news came along, I actually did not know that DARPA had an ongoing competition to launch small satellites into orbit. Last month, I told you guys about Spin Launch. A company which recently secured $80 million in terms of seed money. 

SpaceX is doing an excellent job to bring down the cost of each launch. But SpaceX is targeting heavier satellites. SpaceX can still launch small satellites, it is just you need to find a partner to fill up the other seats. Otherwise you have to pay for the entire launch. If we have smaller rockets, (like Electron, from RocketLabs) you can pay less, launch more frequently. It is a race against a time.

📹 🔊 SpaceX raises over $500 million by selling shares


Spin Launch isn’t the only company looking for raising money. SpaceX sold $500 million worth of shares. Not enough details are available. But I SPECULATE, this money will go into ‘Starship’ R&D. Each share was worth $220. 

📹 🔊 Satellite Boom to ‘Wreak Havoc’ on Astrophotography, NASA


Satellite Boom to ‘Wreak Havoc’ on Astrophotography, NASA Says



This is a topic I personally care about. We are experiencing a growth in the satellite industry. Business analyst companies are forecasting this growth to sustain for a while. A portion of the new satellites to be launched in the coming years, will be launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This is an orbit where data latency is lower although the atmospheric drag is higher. There is a topic that goes unnoticed by many. Debris problem. When you have so many satellites orbiting the earth, how to control the debris problem. Over the years, people have started paying attention. We now need the same kind of attention to a different kind of pollution. Light pollution created by these satellites in LEO.lit

It kind of sounds funny coming from me. I was born and raised in Bangladesh. Light pollution is least of our worries. As a matter of fact, thousands of people still don’t have access to electricity, hence no light at night. We have water pollution, air is unbreathable. So, on a greater scale of things, it is not as important.

I love staring into the night sky. In 2008, I went to St. Martin Island with my college buddies. The island is disconnected with the mainland and too small to have a power plant. As a result, at night, we would have no power. Diesel generators would run for 1 hour. That’s all you’d get. Being a city kid it was disappointing at first. But once I stepped outside I experienced something I would never forget. The island was far away from the mainland. So you couldn’t see any lights coming from the city. Since the generators were not running, no bright light source on the island. When you stand on the beach and look up at the sky, the sight is unforgettable. That was my first glimpse into the Galaxy. Since that time, I’ve been longing for a similar experience. But within the city boundaries, it is impossible. Let’s say, in the future, I save up enough money for a similar trip. I save up money and go to a distant remote island. Question is, will I have the same experience? Probably not. We already know starlink is creating headaches for astronomers and more satellites are on the way. From the FCC they have permission to put 30,000 more of these satellites. Sure, recent black coatings are an improvement in the reflectivity of these satellites, but it will never be enough.Image from: https://petapixel.com/assets/uploads/2020/03/satellitenigyhtskyfeat-800x800.jpg

This makes me sad.

📹 🔊 20ms latency


Elon Musk: Starlink Latency Will Be Good Enough For Competitive Gaming

Every month I compile space news, there are so many news related to SpaceX, I might need a section dedicated to SpaceX news. 

This one is from SpaceX starlink project. Since the beginning of the Starlink project announcement, I had one question, “How will this business model work?” Because building and launching satellites is very very expensive. There is no guarantee that it’ll pay off. The Iridium constellation had similar goals. To bring everybody under cell phone coverage. It didn’t work for them. SpaceX wants to bring everybody under internet coverage. Will it be any different for them? There was a similar philosophical project before. I forgot the name of the project. Much earlier to the announcement of the starlink project, a small group was working on a small satellite that could provide internet to the disconnected part of the world. There was no constellation. So the service could never be in real time. The concept was, the satellite would come with a ground terminal. Ground terminal would act as a server. It’d have some wikipedia pages pre-loaded. Once the user requests a page which was not in the server’s memory, the server would then send a request to the satellite. In the subsequent passes, the satellite would send back the requested pages. It would consume a lot of time, but at least, people would have very rudimentary access to the internet. (If someone remembers the project name, please let me know in the comments). 

What SpaceX is trying to do is very expensive. Normally, you would need a tracking device to point your antenna. If the tracking device fails, you will never upload or download anything from the satellite. Starlink service requires no pointing mechanism. That means, no matter where you are pointing, a starlink satellite would always be there. That is a lot of satellites. A lot of investment. What if there was no customer to pay for such expensive service. As I’m wondering, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced, his company is working on the same thing, OneWeb. A web connectivity solution via satellites. These people clearly have done their research and they have means to survey the market. If both of them are racing towards global satellite connection, I’m starting to think there is a lot of money to be made. Whether or not anyone is right, only time will tell.

In his latest statement, Elon Musk has said, the satellite link will have a 20ms latency. This is a bold statement to make. Even many optical broadband lines cannot manage 20ms latency time due to various routing mechanisms and internet traffic. If Starlink satellite is truly such a low latency network, then surely, a lot of people will start to line up for the service.

I would like to remind my readers at this point that latency is not the same as bandwidth. Let’s say you have very very high bandwidth and a very very high latency. You decide to watch a movie in 4K. You open up your netflix and hit play. Because you have very very high latency, it will take some time to load the movie. But at the same time, since you have very very high bandwidth, your video will not buffer. If you are gaming on this imaginary system, you’ll see the difference much clearly. Your video quality would be great, but each click or each move you make in the video game takes a while to register. The game would lag behind.

If you had the opposite system, verry very low latency and very very low bandwidth, your videos would load up very fast, but you’ll never be able to watch youtube in 4k. Your video game performance would improve, but the video quality will be rubbish.  

🔊 Lockhead martin app


You can actually get a job as an ‘Orbit Designer’. In this job you decide how many satellites your company needs to make to execute their plan. Or When you need to launch your satellite so it can reach Mars using the least amount of fuel. You come up with different solutions for different input. Of course, we now have computer tools to aid us in such a decision making process. But these software are very high tech and developed in house in space agency. 

Lockhead Martin has ported and simplified these software to run from an iPad. A fucking iPad. It only means one thing, lockhead Martin is aiming to build satellite constellations for multiple clients. The work is so repeatative for them, the came up with a fucking app. What’s next? A door to door salesman selling satellite constellations???

Now some of these softwares are available in public domain (orbitron for example). These softwares are not as interesting as your iPad apps but they work. Many apps are making their way into smartphones to raise public awareness. You can download most of them for free. In the meantime, I recommend checking www.stuffin.space to get a picture of how many satellites are currently in space. Alternatively, you can check out Celestrak.com, the website I use the most for satellite tracking. 

📹 🔊 SpaceX – Starlink

Source 1:

Falcon 9 Rocket Overcomes Engine Failure To Deploy 60 Starlink Satellites

Source 2: 

Source 3: 

One of the rocket’s nine first stage engines shut down prematurely around 2 minutes, 22 seconds

The first stage missed a landing attempt on SpaceX’s drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral, the second time SpaceX has missed a rocket landing in the company’s last three missions.

The sixth batch of starlink satellites is up in orbit. There was a slight glitch during the launch. One of the nine first stage booster rocket engines prematurely shutdown 2 minutes 22 seconds into the launch. The mission itself remained unaffected, thanks to other 8 engines that were working just fine. The anomaly could be (we are all speculating here) due the fact that this first stage had already been used in the past. 4 times already. So it is not so surprising that on its 5th trip to space, something was not perfect. The booster rockets could not make it back to the drone ship. This is probably due to burning up extra fuel & ground operators uploading the wrong wind data. Anyway, no biggie. I’m happy to see SpaceX is pushing their boosters to the limit and learning more about them. Not so happy about the new shinny(!) starlink satellites.


Meeting Astronaut Prof. Dr. Takao Doi

First of all, thanks to Ibukun, without whom I would be sitting in the lab with no clue that Dr Takao Doi was in the campus giving a talk. Somehow, I missed the email from Maeda Sensei which had information about the event. Anyway, I needed no introduction to Dr Doi. I received the first email from Dr Doi back in 2015. That email was a confirmation email to my PNST fellowship. Without the PNST program, it would have been very difficult for me to come this far, this fast. I like to believe I’m not alone. Dr Doi was the chief of the office of outer space for quite a long time (2009-2016). All of the PNST fellows start their journey in Kyutech after receiving that email. Getting to meet him in my final year of PhD was a surprise. Dr Doi is now a Professor at Kyoto University and his students are building CubeSats. That is the reason for his visit to KyuTech this year.

Dr Doi belongs to the first generation of Japanese Astronauts. He was selected to be an astronaut in 1985 with 2 other Japanese. He was the first Japanese to do a spacewalk. He flew 2 missions in space, STS-87 & STS-123. In his first mission, STS-87 he became the first Japanese to perform a spacewalk. In his second mission, he delivered and set up the KIBO module. Did I mention he has 2 Ph.D. degree and discovered 2 supernovae?!

During the seminar, he showed us a few videos of him taken during his expeditions. Talked about the features of Space Shuttle. Communication and other technical aspects of the space shuttle. The landing speed of the Space Shuttle is about 350 KM/hour. And landing is manual. Apparently, NASA has a rule which says, all space shuttle landing is to be done manually by the space shuttle commander. Also, since it has no propeller, it is a one-shot landing. if you miss the landing, and you are not going to have another chance. I didn’t know the commander of the space shuttle is always a US citizen.

Prof. Doi narrating his experience as video from his mission plays.

The seminar was a very humbling experience. A man went to space twice and came alive, where some of his colleagues did not. When asked about the biggest challenge of his life, he said it was training and waiting to be selected for a mission. He waited for over 10- years for each mission he went to. That is a lot of time training and waiting. That’s an amazing level of patience. This really brings out the question, or rather ‘the debate’. The people who have paid a lot of money to companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic will also go to space. But can we really call them astronauts??? Sure they will have the training and will experience liftoff and landing in a SpaceCraft. What about the risk and the sacrifices made by people like Dr Takao Doi, who dedicated his entire youth for training and made numerous other sacrifices in his personal life which we may never know? It is nearly impossible to match their level of dedication.

With Astronaut Prof. Dr. Takao Doi, who has flown to space twice, discovered 2 supernovae.

Maybe someday I’ll be lucky enough to take a selfie with Bangladeshi astronaut. The only question is, will I live long enough to do that day???